Scott Diamond was going to be the carryover success from a 2012 rotation that completely imploded around him. Aaron Hicks was going to be the rookie phenom who served as the harbinger of the bright future ahead. The Twins, configured with a mixture of productive vets and talented youngsters, were going to be an improved club that alleviated the doubts formed by two straight years of utterly awful performance.
The best laid plans…
On Thursday, Twins Territory received perhaps its biggest gut punch of the season when Diamond and Hicks were both sent to Triple-A in the wake of an ugly sweep at the hands of the Royals.
The general sentiment is that these demotions were long overdue. And who could argue? Diamond has barely resembled the pitcher he was last year, when he was a strike-throwing ground ball machine with a potent curveball. The distilled version we've seen in 2013 is not major-league caliber.
And Hicks, while flashing promising power at times, generally seemed overmatched, and never found sustained traction. After raising his average to a season-high .205 with a 4-for-4 effort on July 8th, he sunk back into oblivion with a .152 average and 19-to-4 K/BB ratio in 75 plate appearances since.
If you look in the right places, you can find points of positivity in these developments. Hicks is still only 23 and has plenty of time to mature into a quality hitter. The demotion will almost surely delay his service clock, giving the Twins an extra year of control. With a good month against Triple-A pitching he should be back in September, and he'll likely remain a strong bet to open up in the 2014 Twins outfield.
It's a little tougher to see the bright side with Diamond. He walked a fine line last year as one of baseball's lowest strikeout pitchers, leaning on elite BB and GB rates to suppress opposing lineups. This year he has deteriorated in basically every way imaginable. His walks are up, his grounders are way down, and his already anemic K-rate has plummeted to an absurd depth. At 3.8 K/9IP, he is averaging a full strikeout per game less than the next lowest qualified big-league starter (Bartolo Colon is at 4.8).
At 27, Diamond is hardly over the hill. He showed the skills last year to be a solid rotation piece -- albeit not a front man -- and it's hard to believe his drastic regression is not related to lingering elbow issues. Can he rebound and return to form? It's the same question being asked of his once-again teammate, Vance Worley, and unfortunately the answers are now as unclear as ever.
To be sure, the Twins have had plenty of reaffirming successes in the minor leagues this year. Oswaldo Arcia, who will now get another animated hack at the majors after unleashing a merciless onslaught on International League pitching for a couple weeks, is one that stands out. Andrew Albers, whose expected promotion is well deserved after a thoroughly impressive season in Rochester, is another nice story with potential dividends.
But until we see some of these favorable outcomes play out in the majors, it's tough to feel any measure of satisfaction. As things stand, the Twins appear headed toward a third straight 90-loss season and the signs of progress on the field have been painfully few.